A new memo in the US Federal Bureau of Prisons indicates that tampons, maxi pads and panty liners will soon be available free of charge for women in all federal prisons, reports this recent article.

This reform comes a month after the introduction of a Dignity for Incarcerated Women bill by Senators Cory Brooker and Elizabeth Warren, which aims to ensure the free provision of essential hygiene products such as these. If passed, the law would also limit the use of shackling and solitary confinement, and improve inmates’ rights to visitation and external communication, including via videoconferencing.

Senator Brooker welcomed the memo, but stressed that he would still fight for all parts of the proposed reforms to be properly enforced.

This policy would affect women in federal prisons, but would not extend to inmates of state prisons or local jails. Whilst some local legislators have guaranteed women prisoners’ access to sanitary products, in other regions women are required to purchase them from prison commissaries, meaning those who can’t afford them are forced to do without. 

Prisoners Abroad sends grants to British citizens in detention overseas so prisoners can buy basic items such as food, clean water or essential toiletries. 10% of the overseas prisoners we support are women, and so access to feminine hygiene products is indispensable.

This need doesn’t end once women are released. Women make up around 10% of our resettlement clients. For those with no home or employment in the UK to return to, gaining access to benefits can be slow and complicated, and items such as sanitary products may be unaffordable. We provide small grants for food, travel and feminine hygiene products. We work to establish our beneficiaries’ specific needs, and can refer women to medical or other specialist care.

As one of the women being supported by our resettlement team said:

“Had it not been for Prisoners Abroad I would have been in a very bad situation – you really helped me over that first hurdle…It was such a relief to know I had someone to go to and fall back on. Just knowing I had that help was a massive relief.”

For more on what it’s like to be a woman in prison abroad, read Tina’s story.